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Bill Thayer

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Part I
Chapter 5
This webpage reproduces part of
Angry Island

by Margaret Mackay

published by Rand McNally & Company,
Chicago • New York • San Francisco

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Part I
Chapter 7

Part One
Early Adventures

 p33  6 A Robinson Crusoe — and Perhaps a Murderer

Early in the same year, 1812, another resident joined Lambert, Millet and Currie. He was an American named Williams, said to have been left on the island by the British ship Queen Charlotte — whatever 'left' may mean.

When Captain Richardson of HMS Semiramis touched at Tristan on March 5 and 6, 1813, he found Currie — or Corri — the only inhabitant of the island — a veritable Robinson Crusoe. He was known to mariners as Old Italian Thomas, and described as 'a morose, mysterious person'.

Currie explained that on May 17, 1812, Lambert, Millet and Williams had taken the boat and gone out to fish and collect wreckage washed up by the tide. They had never returned. Obviously, said Currie, the boat had capsized and they had been drowned.

Captain Richardson did not question this all too likely story. He felt sorry for the bereaved hermit, alone day and night in his hut with the ghostly winds. He left him a Union Jack, thinking it 'might be useful to him'.

Soon, however, Italian Thomas had the company of two more Americans, John Tankard and John Talsen. It is not stated whether they were sailors, whalers, sealers, pirates, traders, deserters or maroons. Undoubtedly they were welcomed by Currie, for by this time he must have been much in need of aid with his half-hoed vegetable patch. English whalers, whose province had been largely in northern waters, had started coming down to the South Atlantic to catch sea‑elephants for oil. And large American whaling fleets from New Bedford and other ports had begun to frequent the waters, and called for fresh provisions.

Meanwhile, America and Britain were enemies again in the War of 1812. Tristan was used as a base by Yankee men‑o'‑war and privateers, to prey upon East Indiamen.

However, according to the Dutch expert on Tristan, Mynheer Jan Brander, "The inhabitants had little opportunity for trading with the crews of the ships touching at the island, for the Americans took away (without pay) the livestock and produce which Currie and his companions had cleared with much labour and industry.'

 p34  In 1814 a Spanish youth disembarked on the island from an English ship. He was named Bastiano Poncho Camilla, and he came from Minorca in the Balearic Islands. Though a little odd and bedraggled, he seems to have been a bright, respectable boy. He agreed to work for Currie for two years as his servant.

Currie kept a record of an engagement which he watched for several days in March,º 1815. On Marchº 17 the British brig-of‑war Penguin called, and left at once hearing that the Americans were near. Three days later he saw her giving chase. (He claimed that he promptly hoisted British colours on the island.) An American corvette and schooner arrived, and on Marchº 23, Currie observed the English brig in the north-north-east firing on the corvette. 'The action lasted about forty minutes, when the brig lost her mainmast, and a short time after struck colours to the American.'​a

At the ends of the earth the foes did not know that the war had been over for threeº months.

A few days after the naval engagement Tristan was visited by the British ship Bengal Merchant. Captain Peter Gordon wrote to Mr Henry Alexander, Colonial Secretary at the Cape, telling him about Currie, Tankard and Talsen. There is some evidence that, since Thomas Currie (when it was expedient) flew the Union Jack, his 'colony' was vaguely recognized as a British possession, for a frigate was sent there annually.

Wrote Captain Gordon:

He always expressed himself content with his settlement in every respect except one, which was the want of a female companion, which if removed would, I doubt not, be the means of establishing a permanent British Colony on the Tristan da Cunha Islands . . .

He would be obliged to the British Government to send him, at the first opportunity, a woman who might consent to partake of his fortune, some sheep and rams, some plants and seeds, one or two heads of black cattle, and some tools, et cetera. The benefits of such a supply would be more national than individual.

 p35  At some time between mid‑1815 and mid‑1816 Talsen and Tankard are said to have 'disappeared'. Thomas Currie again became sole heir to the island, attended by his young Spanish servant, Bastiano.

With the boy's help, he managed at last to carry on a profitable trade, selling sealskins and sea‑elephant oil to ships. He is understood to have amassed a further hoard of clinking golden sovereigns — to add to the gold and jewels hidden away in the pirate chest of which only he knew the secret.

Thayer's Note:

a A very different account is given in American sources: see Adm. G. R. Clark, et al., A Short History of the United States Navy, pp158‑59 and Francis F. Beirne, The War of 1812, pp339‑340. As noted (and corrected by me) above, Mackay's date as printed is in error: the correct month is March.

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Page updated: 13 Dec 20